Herbert Blomstedt was born in the United States to Swedish parents. He commenced his studies in Stockholm and Uppsala, going on to enrol at the Juilliard School in New York where he studied orchestral conducting. He also studied contemporary music in Darmstadt and early music at the Schola Cantorum in Basle. He worked with Igor Markevitch in Salzburg and with Leonard Bernstein at Tanglewood.
Blomstedt has served as principal conductor of various Scandinavian orchestras, the Dresden Staatskapelle, the NDR Symphony Orchestra and the San Francisco Symphony, where he is now conductor laureate. He was appointed music director of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra in 1998, where, upon relinquishing the post in 2005, he was appointed honorary conductor.
Blomstedt has received various honorary doctorates and is a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music. In 2003, the German president Johannes Rau presented him with the Grosses Bundesverdienstkreuz.